The libel case brought against Deborah Lipstadt in London by the Holocaust denier David Irving came to trial in 2000. I was one of Lipstadt’s attorneys, and 2000 feels like longer than 16 years ago. A world pre-9/11, before the ubiquity of social media and, for Jews, predating the emergence of much debated new forms of anti-Semitism. I was a youngish lawyer, nine years into my career, and I knew, even then, that the case was one of the most exciting and important I would ever be involved in. And we won, convincingly. Irving had sued Lipstadt because she had called him — correctly — a Holocaust denier in her 1993 book on the subject, “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.” He was a Holocaust denier, the judge said, because he did what Holocaust deniers do, which is to lie about the facts to diminish the crimes — in Irving’s case so as to exculpate Hitler and Nazism. And Irving, like all other Holocaust deniers, accused the Jews of inventing the Holocaust to achieve all sorts of things, including creating the State of Israel and maintaining, by controlling the historical narrative, their control over other nations, the media and so forth.
All this was familiar territory to me and many other activists of the time. Irving was well known to anyone involved in student politics or Jewish causes. I had read Lipstadt’s book before the case started, and had had another encounter with Irving in a separate piece of litigation. It was comfortable in a sense. We knew where we stood with Irving. He came out of a recognizable school of right-wing anti-Semitism. Adulated by right-wing parties in Europe, aligned with David Duke in the United States and borrowing tropes well known to students of anti-Semitism, Irving had almost become a parody of an anti-Semite.
But that is not to say it was not important to beat him. It was. Even more important was to beat him well. We set out to show that he was a liar; how he lied, and that his lies had political purpose. We demolished the pantheon of deniers that included Fred Leuchter, Robert Faurisson and Arthur Butz. And that was, I thought, job done. Obviously not job done on anti-Semitism or even Holocaust denial, which had become and is rampant in the Arab world. But job done on a small byway of anti-Semitism: Holocaust denial given the veneer of respectability by bogus historical argument coming out of the traditions of Western right- wing extremism.
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